California Forum

The Conversation

Last Sunday’s Conversation was a two-story package that looked at Detroit’s bankruptcy and a federal judge’s ruling that public employee pensions are fair game as the city seeks to solve its financial problems. Dan Morain’s column focused on John Arnold, who is helping to fund pension reform efforts in California. We asked readers: Do you think voters should have a say in whether to reform public employee pension plans? Or should the issue be decided at the bargaining table?


Unions, politicians lack accountability

Re “Bankruptcy and public pensions; Promises are broken promises when bills come due” (Forum, Dec. 8): Unions like SEIU exist to pay benefits and minimize accountability. Asking the union to agree to benefits cuts is like negotiating with a 2-year-old on whether to ration the Halloween candy. Unions cannot comprehend that taxpayer monies are a precious resource and that work can be done efficiently without maximizing labor costs to taxpayers. Detroit, Vallejo and Stockton are just the tip of the iceberg. Illinois is not far behind, and neither is Chicago.

Besides, in union negotiations, neither side is looking out for taxpayers’ interests. Government officials know they can grant the rank-and-file unions the kitchen sink and then turn around and negotiate an even better sweetheart deal for themselves.

Only in an “Alice in Wonderland” world does this make sense. Impose benefit cuts on public-sector workers now; no negotiations with them.

– Satish Rajan, Roseville

Responsibility for crisis is shared

The article states it is the union’s role to get all they can and it is the politicians’ job not to overspend. It states it is morally wrong for the city of Detroit to go back on its promise. I am confident that in Detroit, and most other government entities, the elected officials are in office because their campaigns were primarily funded by unions.

The unions cannot deny their actions have deliberately made the government officials beholden to them. Nor can they deny a shared responsibility when the subservient politicians succumb to their greed when they ask for and receive benefits they both must know are unsustainable.

They both have a clear shared responsibility for what has transpired, and to suggest that it is morally wrong for the unions to share in the pain of what they were instrumental in bringing about is in itself morally wrong.

– Ronald Lawrence, El Dorado Hills

Politicians won’t cross union donors

Scott Martelle, let me get this straight: You think that government officials who are very heavily supported by big unions, not only monetarily but also in getting out the vote, should be expected to control and reduce pensions and benefits for these same unions that helped elect them? That is delusional thinking.

– Paul Bilek, Loomis

Managers screwed up, employees suffer

Re “Labor groups target Texan” (Forum, Dan Morain, Dec. 8): Here we go again. An elected official accepts advice and money from a wealthy businessman with no government experience and very little life experience. A wealthy man with time on his hands.

John Arnold blindly contributed to Sen. Ted Cruz without vetting the senator’s positions. He uses Stockton and San Bernardino as examples of the pension mess, when we in California know that those two cities collapsed because of the housing mess, caused with the help of Wall Street’s financial misdeeds.

Why does the retired 39-year-old begrudge men and women who have worked for more than 30 years and who want to retire?

As always, the employees who do the work are the ones punished for management’s poor decisions. He should at least understand that.

– Michael Santos, Antelope

From Facebook

Jacqueline Naud – To answer the question, all issues related to public employee compensation should be decided at the bargaining table. A “one size fits all” mindset toward public employee retirement is absurd. State employees and local government employees are being lumped together as one entity when, in fact, their jobs and compensation are very different.

Chris Hickman – If anything, hopefully this will move us away from the insane practice of defined-benefit retirements for civil servants. The system is simply not sustainable.

John Hoffman – As stated in the article, it is the role of the union to fight for the best wage and benefits package possible for their members. The elected officials, similarly, have a role to fight for what is best for the government body for which they are elected. The problem lies in the conflict that the union members are often the large and influential bloc which got the elected official into office, and will promote the same elected official to the next rank of government office if union demands are met.

David Hughes – I went into “Public Service” partly on the premise that though the pay was bad and the working conditions weren’t too great, the benefits were excellent. So, now that I’ve gone many, many years making less than I could have in a private sector job, we’re just going to break that one big promise that helped keep me going through thick and thin. Promises broken. It is morally indefensible!

Fred Rinne – Pensions are part of wages, thus pension theft = wage theft.

Michael Marshall – Taking someone’s entire pension away from them is not the same as losing an investment. It’s disgusting, and it may mean that contracts don’t mean a thing. Detroit made promises it can’t keep. Cities need to be more careful going forward. So has Sacramento made promises it will have a hard time keeping? Probably. If it comes down to a choice of servicing arena debt or paying retiree expenses, which would Sacramento choose?

Jon Campbell – The unions have been bribing the very politicians signing their contracts and have put us in the poor house for the foreseeable future … It’s bout time some of these folks reaped what they sowed now that we can’t afford teachers or roads because we have to pay $100,000-a-year pensions for folks retiring in their 50s.